Trump’s Win in Context


(Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Marc Mekhanik, Editor

This year, a major country faced a decision.  On one side of the decision was a protection of the status quo.  On the other side was a radically different movement, one that promised change and that was a decisive step towards nationalism.  This side was accused of racism and bigotry in multiple forms, and was viewed as a long shot by pundits, pollsters, and betting markets alike.  Then, in a surprising upset, that side won.  I am, of course, talking about Brexit.

When looking at the numbers, the election of Donald Trump has a lot in common with Britain’s decision to leave the EU.  According to polling aggregate FiveThirtyEight, betting markets gave Trump a twenty percent chance of becoming president, and Brexit a fifteen percent chance of happening.  These odds made many write these campaigns off as long shots.  However, both campaigns were carried to victory by similar demographics: those lacking college educations, and older voters (Figures are from demographic breakdowns done by the BBC and the Pew Research Center).  These voters wanted change.  In this case, the change was a reaction to globalism.

Political and social movements tend to move in waves, with movements and the reactions to those movements following each other.  The 1990s ushered in Globalism with Bill Clinton and his support of NAFTA.  Now in 2016, factors like immigration have inspired a reaction to that Globalism.  The resulting popularity of both Brexit and Trump seem to be based around “Taking back control”.  That was the “Leave” campaign’s slogan, but it seems to be echoed by Trump’s claims of “Having a country again”.  Both movements were motivated by people who, according to British political scientist Rob Ford, were beginning to feel like strangers in their own countries.

Both campaigns were aware of the resemblance between them.  As The Economist has noted, Trump referred to the Brexit vote as a victory for his kind of politics.  Also, Nigel Farage, UKIP leader and Brexit mastermind, spoke at a Trump rally.

Trump’s win was surprising, but it can be placed into a larger global context.  So far, two major world powers have moved towards nationalism.  As Trump becomes the 45th President and Britain begins the process of leaving the EU, it will be interesting to see how these movements develop, and whether they spread across the globe.  How global communication will play into this development also remains to be seen.